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Time Travel

If I Could Turn Back Time

            Few authors know where to expect inspiration, but that’s just part of the excitement of our profession. So is venturing into unknown territory. Despite being a fan of George Orwell’s The Time Machine and Jack Finney’s Time and Again, I never considered writing about time travel because the market was always woefully overloaded with poorly written and plotted stories about star-crossed lovers or some woman getting hit on the head and waking up to discover she’s Cleopatra. Such books have, to quote Dorothy Parker, all “the depth and glitter of a worn dime.”

            My reluctance changed my last year of living in the French Quarter, 2003, when I went onto my gallery one warm March evening to enjoy a glass of wine. Fog began rolling off the Mississippi River and soon thickened until I could barely discern houses across the street. While fog inhibits sight, it can magnify sounds and smells. I grew acutely aware of muffled voices, the lonely drone of riverboat horns, cathedral bells and the clip-clop of mule-drawn carriages. As I inhaled the rich odor of the Mississippi, it occurred to me that everything I saw, smelled and heard came from the mid-nineteenth century, including the 1833 Creole townhouse where I lived. While I was processing that revelation, voices in the street drew me to lean over the iron railing to see a quartet in hooded black robes. I’m sure they were heading for a Mardi Gras ball, but for a moment they played tricks with my sensibilities. Viewed through the swirling fog, they could’ve been noblemen or vampires, nightmares or dreams. I admit being beguiled by a moment lost in time that was as unsettling as it was unforgettable.

That fragile, intoxicating reverie reminded me that no American city claims a more omnipresent past than New Orleans, especially the old French Quarter. Its ancient ambiance was potent enough to mess with my mind, just as its exotic history was ideal for conjuring spirits of the past and evoking intense nostalgia. The town’s fabled cemeteries, called “cities of the dead,” ravaged too soon by unforgiving heat and subtropical rains, are especially evocative. Caught after a summer rain, they steam and shimmer like living things. This is as it should be. Antebellum New Orleans was, after all, a realm apart, a uniquely ethnocentric jambalaya of white slaves, black masters, courtesans of color and a caste system that seems like fantasy today. Unable to resist such a setting, I got to work on my first book about time travel and whisked my New Orleans heroine, Madeleine St. Jacques, back to 1861 on the eve of the Civil War. The result was Still Time. I so enjoyed Madeleine’s adventures, I deployed her again in Past Time, this time to 1914 Tsarist Russia where, as the guest of the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, she meets a host of duplicitous Romanovs. In early 2017, Out of Time will catapult Madeleine back to Haiti in 1820 and the opulent European-style court of  black King Henry I.

Past Time 
Out of Time by Michael Llewellyn